TRUMBULL — For years, malls were perceived as a venue for teens to eat, shop and hang out. But high school students say mall culture is now shifting away from the gathering place that it once was.

On Dec. 26, large-scale fights erupted between groups of teens at the Westfield Trumbull, Westfarms and Connecticut Post malls. The result: seven arrests, a temporary closure and a number of hospitalizations.

Although Trumbull teens report they generally feel safe at the mall, the potential for outbreaks of violence still cross the minds of some younger shoppers.

“The teens in these brawls have too much time on their hands,” said Christian Heritage junior Andrea Piraneque, 16, of Trumbull. An occasional mall shopper, Piraneque said disorderly teens ruin the atmosphere at the mall.

“Sometimes I’ll avoid certain areas if they seem dangerous or riled up,” she said. “The risks are higher.”

Other teens said the fights didn’t bother them because they seldom shop at the mall and hardly ever socialize there.

“I really only go if I need to buy something,” said fellow CHS student Hannah Bruce, also 16, of Trumbull. She said she doesn’t use the mall as a place to meet up with friends, either.

Bruce noted the trend away from mall shopping seemed evident when she does go there.

“It’s been relatively empty,” she said.

Part of the problem, Bruce said, is that teens have easy access to social networking and online shopping. This makes it less important to be physically present at a central location. Teens don’t need malls for entertainment or shopping, and they can forge connections through social media and virtual meetups.

The response of the Connecticut Post mall, placing temporary restrictions that required visitors under 18 to be accompanied by an adult during afternoon and evening hours, could further discourage teens, Bruce said.

“I understand why they would consider enforcing such a policy after the violence, but it’s inconvenient for both teens and their parents,” she said.

Teens can use the mall as a place to gather away from their parents, and not all parents want to tag along as chaperones, she said.

Still, there are some aspects of the mall that can’t be replicated digitally, Piraneque said. Social media still can’t replicate the scent of cinnamon buns wafting from the food court, she said.